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Monday, March 12, 2012
Spring position preview: Specialists

By Michael Rothstein

Brendan Gibbons
Brendan Gibbons' Sugar Bowl performance solidified his spot as Michigan's No. 1 kicker.
For the past few seasons, Michigan has been searching for a good kicker. It had also been hoping that Will Hagerup would be a suitable replacement for Zoltan Mesko, now with the New England Patriots.

And it had to try and solve a return game that never really got much traction.

Well, two of those problems have been solved. The third is still being worked on as Michigan enters the spring.

What Michigan has back: The Wolverines, after struggling in 2010 with the kicker, are now set at the position with Brendan Gibbons. Gibbons made the game-winning kick against Virginia Tech at the Allstate Sugar Bowl, appears to have regained his confidence, and in all likelihood will be Michigan's kicker in the fall. If Gibbons falters, Michigan has sophomore Matt Wile, who supposedly has more distance than Gibbons. At punter, Wile and junior Will Hagerup will likely be competing throughout the spring for the job as both punted at different points last season.

What Michigan needs to accomplish this spring: Attempt to find kick and punt returners. Martavious Odoms graduated. Darryl Stonum, Odoms' likely replacement, was booted from the team. Dennis Norfleet doesn't arrive until fall camp. So there are a bunch of players who could compete for the roles, including receivers Terrence Robinson and Drew Dileo, running back Vincent Smith and cornerback Blake Countess. Paring down who might compete with Norfleet in the fall would be a good start.

Be pleased if: Kicker and punter are status quo and Michigan has its return guys down to two or three players entering fall.

Be concerned if: Gibbons loses confidence again and Hagerup can't regain his form. Otherwise, Michigan is OK. It won't be able to tell too much, return-wise, until the fall anyway.

Position grade: Michigan is in good shape. Gibbons isn't an elite kicker, but he is good and has shown the ability to make under pressure. Between Hagerup and Wile, Michigan will figure out its punting and kickoff duties. The biggest question is at returner, but there is a lot of potential there. Grade: B+